Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Anna Moschovakis, _You and Three Others Are Approaching a LAke_

THIS WON THE 2011 James Laughlin Award, which must be how it came to be on my shelves. I have not read anything else by Moschovakis, but the Laughlin Award winners tend to be interesting--a slightly better batting average than the Pulitzers, perhaps.

I heard Laughlin speak once--at the Art Institute of Chicago, early 1984, perhaps? I wonder if someone is working on a biography--what a unique career.

You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake is mainly four long poems, bookended by two short ones, and the long ones--well, I'll just quote the endnote:

The four long poems in this volume were inspired by books chosen by title and appearance from the shelves of Bibliobarn, a miraculous used bookstore in South Kortright, NY. Language is borrowed, premises are adopted or argued with, tones are emulated or thwarted.  I am grateful for the existence of these books, all of which take a bold stand towards their topics and the twentieth-century world they inhabited.

Obviously some complex kind of appropriation and adaptation is going on... frankly, I'd like to know more, perhaps in the form of a website, as Srikanth Reddy did for Voyager...? Just a  suggestion.

I had never heard of any of the four books, although I had heard of two of the authors (Stuart Chase and Arnold Bennett), so I cannot even guess what kind of process Moschovakis subjected them to--the results are brilliant, though.

"The Tragedy of Waste," from the Chase book, is the source of the volume's title and seems to be a kind of thought experiment about people, tools, and terrain, about how we are made by the things we make.

"Death as a Way of Life," inspired by a book by one Roger Caras, is about death, more precisely killing, but also about love and sex--I'm guessing this is the first poem ever to yoke Emmanuel Levinas with with Bonnie and Clyde.

"The Human Machine (Thirty Chances)" is my favorite, I'd say.  Based on a non-fiction book by Arnold Bennett (one of whose novels I got sufficiently far into in grad school to decide that Virginia Woolf truly did have his number), this poem finds a way to talk about both Alan Turing and Artificial Intelligence and Peter Singer and animal rights.  If machines can think... do they have rights?

"In Search of Wealth," inspired by a book by Cyril Belshaw, asks what you would sacrifice for what, and yokes the Dani of New Guinea and Scientology... another first, I daresay.

You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake is witty, thought-provoking, and (for me) impossible to put down.

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